Human Centered Design & Political Participation in Canada

Audience: political groups, post-election surveyors, politicians, voters & non-voters.
Client: Mount Royal University: Human-Centered Design/Document Production

Dissatisfaction with political candidates, parties, and systems is vocalized increasingly with our access to social media and web-based platforms. Yet, this passive political expression online does not correlate to increased voter turnout. We retweet, blog and hashtag our stance on political and social movements, yet we fail to cast the ballots with the potential to create change to our online opinions.

With reference to the UN’s 17 Global Goals (2015) and human-centered design practices, students were asked to focus a specific local challenge for exploration over a 13-week period. Once utilizing research methods, data synthesis, and potential solutions, students presented their processes at the Humanly exhibition.


This project was created with the help of my classmate, Adrienne Lwanga.

How might we bridge the gap between passive and active political participation?
We are living in a socio-political climate of increasing social divide but also increased opportunity and connection. It is important to recognize our privileges; an obvious one for the average Canadian citizen is the democratic right to vote. Developing solutions to bridge the gap between passive political participation and active participation would have a large impact on more active forms of political engagement like voter turnout. This concept is not only ideal for increasing the general public’s overall involvement, but also for increased involvement in policy decision making for generations to come.

On a global scale, we have connected our problem to the 2016 UN Global Development Goal 16: Promote just, peaceful and inclusive societies. As previously mentioned; web-based platforms are not being used in a traditional sense, and the conversation around politics and politically relevant issues have become a part of the online social experience. The web has made political participation more accessible than it ever has been, one can be politically engaged in communities on an international level from a tablet or a twitter account. This phenomenon has taken the word global citizen to the next level. However, we can see that in regions with more technological accessibility and increased use, the types of political engagement that do not incorporate these technologies or more social forms of engagement are on the decline.

Research and System Mapping

Our extensive research involved desk research, ethnographic interviews with both subject matter experts and potential voters/non-voters, as well as a survey to better understand voting patterns and levels of apathy. Once all data and research were documented, we developed four barriers to categorize reasoning for non-voters’ apathy and displayed their connections and outside influences into a problem landscape, as well as a visualization of Federal, provincial, and municipal voting.

1. Outdated voting procedures
2. Lack of incentive to vote
3. Information authority and legitimacy
4. lack of connection to politics, political figures, and policy

Developing a Design Concept
Using our research and four barriers as opportunities for intervention, we used precedents to brainstorm potential solutions. The nature of the issue and the in-depth analysis that would be required to “cure” voter apathy is much too large for a single solution. For the nature of the exhibition, then, we developed four voter cards corresponding to the four barriers. Ideally, we hoped audiences would find a “fit” to one barrier and read the corresponding card. The card outlined the individual issue/barrier, a summary of our findings, and potential solutions.


The exhibition allowed discussion into our process and potential solutions with audiences attending. Many viewers felt their “barrier” to voting was barrier three—information authority and legitimacy. The “scare” of fake news and bias in media in connection to politics lessens potential voter’s connection in the first place. Younger viewers, or millennials, felt a lack of representation in candidate choice, and older audiences expressed a stronger party affiliation. Also, our conversations with audiences resulted in further reflection on identity politics, social media use for political discussion, our use of technology in general, low voter turnouts at the municipal level in Calgary, politics in the era of Trump and Brexit, and the possibility of electronic voting.

Photography by Lucy Randal & Elise Martinoski.

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